Lucy the Elephant

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This article is about Lucy, a six-story architectural creation. For Lucy, the Asian elephant, see Lucy (elephant).
Lucy, the Margate Elephant
Lucy the Elephant, National Historic Landmark, November 20, 2011
Lucy the Elephant is located in Atlantic County, New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant is located in New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant is located in the US
Lucy the Elephant
Location within Atlantic County. Inset: Location of Atlantic County within New Jersey.
Location Margate City, New Jersey
Coordinates 39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028Coordinates: 39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028
Built 1881
Architect James V. Lafferty
NRHP Reference # 71000493
NJRHP # 383[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 12, 1971[2]
Designated NHL May 11, 1976[3]
Designated NJRHP April 7, 1971

Elephant hotel redirects here. For the National Historic Landmark located in Somers, New York, see Elephant Hotel.

Lucy the Elephant is a six-story elephant-shaped example of novelty architecture, constructed of wood and tin sheeting in 1881 by James V. Lafferty in Margate City, New Jersey, two miles (3.2 km) south of Atlantic City. Originally named Elephant Bazaar, Lucy was built to promote real estate sales and attract tourists. Today, Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America.[4]



Patenting and Construction[edit]

In 1881, the U.S. Patent Office granted James V. Lafferty a patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for a duration of seventeen years. Lafferty funded the design and construction of his first elephant-shaped building at South Atlantic City, now called Margate. He employed Philadelphia architect William Free for the design, and it was constructed at a cost of $25,000 - $38,000.[5]

Initially named Elephant Bazaar, the structure stands at 65 feet (19.7 m) in height, 60 feet (18.3 m) in length, and 18 feet (5.5 m) in width and weighs about 90 tons. It was constructed with nearly one million pieces of wood, and required 200 kegs of nails, 4 tons of bolts and iron bars; 12,000 square feet of tin covers the exterior. There are 22 windows placed throughout the structure.[5]

Early use and sale[edit]

Originally, Lafferty would bring potential real estate customers to the howdah (carriage) at the top, where he could point out parcels available for sale.[6] Today,visitors to the roadside attraction may take guided tours through the building and access the howdah, which now serves as an observation deck, offering unique views of Margate, Atlantic City's skyline, the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The structure was sold to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia in 1887 and remained in the Gertzen family until 1970. Sophia Gertzen, Anton's daughter-in-law, reportedly dubbed the structure "Lucy the Elephant" in 1902.[5] Lucy's head shape identifies the building as an Asian Elephant, and its tusks as a male. In its first few years, the elephant was referred to as a male, but today it is now generally considered to be female.[citation needed]

Other structures by Lafferty[edit]

Lafferty built two other elephant-shaped buildings, though neither survives. The Elephantine Colossus or Elephant Hotel, at Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn, New York, stood 122 feet (37.2 m) tall, with seven floors of rooms, and legs 60 feet in circumference. It held a cigar store in one leg and a diorama in another, hotel rooms within the elephant proper, and an observation area at the top with panoramic sea views. It burned down in 1896. Another, officially named Light of Asia (dubbed Old Jumbo by locals), opened in Cape May in 1884, but was not successful and torn down within 15 years.[7]


Through the first half of the 20th century, Lucy served as a restaurant, business office, cottage, and tavern (the last closed by Prohibition). The building was depicted on many souvenir postcards, often referred to as "The Elephant Hotel of Atlantic City." (The actual hotel was in a nearby building, not inside the elephant.)

Save Lucy Committee and Restoration[edit]

  • By the 1960s, Lucy had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. In 1969, Edwin T. Carpenter and a group of Margate citizens formed the Margate Civic Association, which later became the Save Lucy Committee under Josephine Harron and Sylvia Carpenter. They were given a 30-day deadline to move the edifice or pay for its demolition. Various fund-raising events, the most successful a door-to-door canvass by volunteers, raised money.
  • In 1970, the building was moved about 100 yards to the west-southwest and a bit inward from the shoreline and completely refurbished. The building's original wooden frame was buttressed new steel, and the deteriorated howdah was replaced with a replica. A plug of green glass set into the howdah platform refracts light into Lucy's interior.[8]
  • In 1972, Lucy appeared in the movie The King of Marvin Gardens, starring Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern.
  • In 1976, Lucy was designated a National Historic Landmark.
  • In 1980, Lucy can be briefly seen in the opening of the film Atlantic City.
  • In 1983, Lucy is shown on a postcard with a picture in the opening credits of the film, National Lampoon's Vacation.[9]
  • In 1986, Lucy appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mr. (Fred) Rogers was shown taking a short tour of Lucy. [10]


HABS image
  • Every July 20, the building's birthday is celebrated with children's games and much fanfare.
  • A large elephant structure, inspired by “Elephantine Colossus”, (a larger version of Lucy, built by Lafferty in 1885 on Coney Island), is featured as the boudoir of Nicole Kidman's character in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge'[11]
  • In 2006, The television series, Weird U.S., shown on The History Channel featured Lucy in an episode.[12]
  • In 2006, Lucy was struck by lightning, blackening the tips of the tusks.
  • In November, 2006, the building was prominently featured in an advertisement for Proformance Insurance.
  • Lucy was featured in the 2009 television show Life After People, which illustrated how the environment would take over the structure without people to maintain Lucy.
  • In a 2011 episode of Boardwalk Empire, which takes place mostly in Atlantic City, Agent Van Alden mentions "a hotel shaped like an elephant" among the local attractions.
  • In October, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Margate. Lucy remained unscathed, although part of the surge reached the building's toes and a small booth in the parking lot was blown over.[8]
  • Lucy was featured in the 2012 book, Stay Close by Harlan Coben (ISBN 1101561173).
  • On June 14, 2014, The Travel Channel's Monumental Mysteries featured Lucy the Elephant in an episode.[13]
  • April 18, 2015: Lucy was featured in the Bill Griffith daily comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead".
  • In 2015, Lucy was featured in the opening credits of a remake of the film Vacation, similar to the original 1983 movie.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Atlantic County" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection - Historic Preservation Office. June 2, 2011. p. 5. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  2. ^ National Park Service (2006-03-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  3. ^ "Lucy, The Margate Elephant". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-23. 
  4. ^ Jacobs, Emma (July 11, 2015). "Elephants Never Forget — And At 6 Stories Tall, This One's Unforgettable". NPR. Retrieved October 8, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c McMahon, William (1988). The Story of Lucy the Elephant. Margate, N.J.: Save Lucy Committee, Inc. p. 40. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tischler, Susan (2016). "What Happened to South Cape May?". Retrieved September 28, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Fears, Danika. "Historic landmark 'Lucy the Elephant' survived Sandy". The Today Show. NBC News. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  9. ^ "Lucy the Elephant". Retrieved 2015-03-26. 
  10. ^ "TheKidsMagic - Mr. Rogers Episode #1570". 1986. Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  11. ^ MessyNessy (September 18, 2015). "The Forgotten Elephant of the Moulin Rouge Garden Party". Retrieved February 17, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Lucy The Elephant, Margate". Weird NJ. 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Lucy the Elephant". Monumental Mysteries. The Travel Channel, LLC. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "LUCY'S 135th BIRTHDAY PARTY". 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017. 

External links[edit]